The Betting and Gaming Council has asked the Government to think again about closing casinos and betting shops in Lancashire as the impact on COVID cases will be negligible – but the economic damage will be huge.
The move comes after the Government placed the region in Tier 3 of its Covid-19 restrictions, meaning it faces the most severe lockdown measures.
It means that around 200 betting shops and three casinos, employing 1,100 staff, will have to shut indefinitely.
The casinos concerned contribute £6m a year in tax to the Treasury, while the betting shops affected pay £24m a year in tax, plus £6.6m to horseracing through levy and media rights payments.
The announcement comes hard on the heels of the Government’s decision to put the Liverpool City Region in Tier 3, meaning the closure of 350 betting shops and six casinos employing a total of 2,300 people.
But unlike in Merseyside, gyms and leisure centres in Lancashire will be allowed to stay open – even though betting shops and casinos are being ordered to close.
Responding to the Government announcement, BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said there was no evidence that bookies and casinos – which have followed all of the anti-COVID public health guidelines introduced since the start of the pandemic – had contributed to the spread of the disease.
He also stressed that at a time of economic hardship, the Treasury could ill afford to miss out on the tax revenue they provide.
Horseracing – which is already suffering due to the ban on spectators attending live sport – will also take a massive financial hit, he said.
Mr Dugher said: “We understand the Government’s need to tackle Covid, but they must balance that with the need to protect jobs.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, betting shops and casinos have played their full role in the national effort to tackle this virus.
“It is therefore hugely disappointing that as they are starting to get back on their feet again, those venues in Merseyside and Lancashire have had the rug pulled from under them by the Prime Minister.
“And given the inconsistencies between the approaches in Liverpool and Lancashire when it comes to gyms and leisure centres, it gives the impression that ministers don’t care about jobs in betting shops and casinos.
“The simple fact is that there is no evidence that closing betting shops and casinos will slow the spread of Covid-19 and any impact from their closure will be negligible. They have followed the public health guidance to the letter, and in many cases have gone above and beyond what is required of them.
“It means that 3,400 hardworking employees in Merseyside and Lancashire will have to stay at home instead of generating the tax revenue that the Treasury so desperately needs.
“And horseracing, which receives millions of pounds every year from betting shops, will also see its revenue fall further at a time when it is already suffering because of the ban on spectators.
“It is therefore time for the Government to rethink the path it is now on.
“We hope that, having made this decision, ministers will come up with the necessary financial package to ensure these betting shops and casinos have a long-term future. But the best course of action remains allowing them to safely keep their doors open and do their bit to help the UK’s economic recovery.”